A new video about sexuality and spirituality, aimed ultimately at Pope Francis as its audience, has been released on the web by a group of LGBT Catholics in New York City.
“Owning Our Faith” is a 14-minute film in which a diversity of LGBT Catholics, family members, and pastoral ministers speak candidly about the intersection of their faith with their acceptance of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The film was the brainchild of Michael Tomae, and a press release described the film’s genesis:
“[Michael] was inspired to act after his volunteer work with Covenant House, a homeless shelter for youth. Many of these young adults were disowned by their Christian families because of their sexuality or gender identity. Tomae was inspired to start a larger conversation, with the primary focus being that one’s faith is not fully wrapped up in one’s sexuality. Tomae reached out to members of the vibrant LGBT community at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, a Catholic Church in Manhattan, and together they brought the project to life.”
The press release also explained that the film is being released in hopes that Pope Francis and bishops will be better prepared for the upcoming synod on family life:
“The film also addresses Pope Francis’ calling for bishops to seek input from Catholics about how the Church should respond to difficult questions on modern family life. The Ordinary Synod of bishops is set to discuss “family” in the context of contemporary life in October 2015. The video focuses on three themes (1) sexuality & faith (2) LGBT people are gifts to the Catholic Church and (3) the idea that “All Are Welcome” and loved by God.
“We want our stories to be a part of the discussion because LGBT people have unique gifts to contribute to the life of the Church.
We hope the Church recognizes that God is working through our life stories. We want to inspire change that will strengthen families, encourage acceptance of LGBT people, foster an inclusive community, and promote an open and accepting dialogue among Catholics across the world. Most of all, we want everyone to know they are loved and not alone.”
The film covers a variety of family and individual situations, with interviews of about 20 people, including: Hilary and Celestine Howes, a married Catholic couple whose marriage has continued after Hilary’s transition; Eve Tushnet, a Catholic lesbian convert; Mike Roper, a 74-year old Catholic gay man; Mateo Williamson, a young transgender man who discusses the spiritual journey of transition; gay couple Rick and Matt Vidal; Xorje Olivares, a Latino gay man who struggles with discussing his sexuality with some family members; Francis and Cheryl Putorti, parents who discuss how they support their gay son, in spite of negative messages they received from the church.
Towards the beginning of the film, Father Patrick Conroy, chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives, explains sexuality’s purposes:
“Human beings procreate, male/female. But human sexuality isn’t just about that. It’s about so much more, which is self-evident.”
Later he talks about the shape that LGBT ministry can take:
“How might we be more welcoming and minister better to the presence of gay and lesbian Catholics in our communities in such a way that they feel that they have a church where they can be nourished, where they can be fed. What is God doing with this community who longs to be fully participating in the sacramental life of our church?. . . .As a church, for the first time, we are being encouraged to pick up a different glass to look through. Instead of ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ [we are now asking] ‘what’s great about this picture?’ I think this is an extraordinary time and a time of great hope.”
In addition to releasing the film, the “Owning Our Faith” project has a full website with two important resources: 1) an invitation for other individuals to share their faith/sexuality/gender stories on video for posting on YouTube; 2) a resource for individuals to find LGBT-welcoming Catholic parishes and faith communities near their homes; 3) a list of discussion questions for parishes or other faith groups who view the film together.
For many years, New Ways Ministry, and many other Catholic LGBT-positive groups, have been encouraging people to start a dialogue with church leaders about sexuality and gender issues. This has become particularly important during this unique time surrounding the synods on marriage and family. This group of young adult filmmakers have found a unique and moving way to get that dialogue started by sharing stories on video. The film is not only inspiring and insightful, but it is disarming and welcoming, accessible to a wide variety of people who may share divergent views on LGBT issues. This documentary is sure to build bridges to many and varied people, both inside and outside the Catholic Church.
[You can view the documentary by clicking here.]
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Minstry